There's no greater time of year for a hockey fan -- or a hockey player -- than that of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Wild.com will chronicle the journey of Eric Staal -- in his own words -- during this year's postseason run. The 32-year-old Staal celebrated 1,000 games in the NHL earlier this season, winning a Stanley Cup in 2006 and reaching the Eastern Conference Final in 2009 with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Staal missed the postseason the following six seasons, returning last spring after a midseason trade to the New York Rangers.
Today, Staal reflects on what the playoffs mean to him and how keeping an even-keeled approach is crucial this time of year.
The biggest thing about the playoffs is just the energy, the atmosphere and the excitement. I've been fortunate enough that I've been on a couple of good runs. What you remember is the build-up, the excitement, the energy, the highs, the lows.
There's so many moments that happen through the course of a run that you remember. Moments that are so crystal clear, even though they happened 10 years ago, they're still there in the front of your mind just because of what they felt like. You want them as much as you can and we have a chance here to hopefully do some good things.
I'd say my excitement level is even higher now as a 32-year-old than it was when I first came into the League at 18. It's amazing how fast this goes and the years go on, time goes on. I've experienced the height of winning it all, another long run to the Conference Final and also missing the playoffs for a couple of years. I know how hard it is just to get here. For me, at this age and where I'm at in my career, I think there's more excitement for this opportunity and chance.
At the same time, you need to keep an even keel and a level head and just do your thing and do your job. I believe that if we have everybody on our team doing what they can do, we're going to give ourselves a very good chance to move on.
I remember back to my first crack at the playoffs and the effect guys like Rod Brind'Amour and Ron Francis had on me. It's weird to be one of the 30-plus-year-olds now that have been around a long time and experienced a lot. For a younger guy, like an Ekker (Joel Eriksson Ek) going through this the first time, it's a time to remind him that this isn't an automatic every year. It takes work to get to the playoffs and when you get there, you want to take advantage and be excited about the opportunity.
Getting back to the playoffs this season has definitely had a different vibe for me personally, just how it started from training camp on and becoming more familiar and comfortable with the area, with the fans, with the building, with the guys in our room and just being excited for the build-up to now over the course of the year. I'm just pumped to be another piece to this group and hopefully do my job, do it at a high level and help us continue to make it a long one.
Sixteen wins over the course of three months between the start of the playoffs and winning a Stanley Cup doesn't sound like much. But you have to take it one game at a time. I think that's what all teams that find success do, the ones that are able to wash away the bad and grab ahold of the good to try and use it to build momentum and push forward.
There's going to be highs, there's going to be lows. There's going to be tough moments. It's your ability to mentally be strong and shake off some of the moments you'd rather have back and be better the next time you go out or the next shift you go out.
It's a fun time of year. It's what you play for. Youv'e got to embrace the opportunity and enjoy it.